This straight. Bill Clinton goes before the...

LET ME GET

June 18, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LET ME GET this straight. Bill Clinton goes before the Rainbow Coalition and denounces Sister Souljah (who was invited to speak to it) for advocating that blacks murder whites, ,, and Jesse Jackson criticized Clinton?

Jackson, who personalizes everything, says Clinton embarrassed him. He also subtly threatened Clinton politically: "I must now know if, in fact, he wants the support of the Rainbow Coalition."

Clinton shouldn't. Look what it did for Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. In order to get the coalition they had to take Jackson, and that meant sharing the spotlight with him. It was too much. Jackson's radical economics, his insistence on racial favoritism and his associations with pre-Souljah racist haters helped drive many whites into the Republican ranks.

Conventional wisdom is that in a three-way race each candidate must solidify his base. For a Democrat that certainly means blacks. But does it mean Jackson? Nope. Since Jackson emerged as the the best known black political leader in the 1980s, Democratic presidential candidates have consistently received about 90 percent of the black vote. But that is hardly his doing.

That is about the percentage that Jimmy Carter got in 1976, when he won, about the percentage that Lyndon Johnson got in 1964, when he won, and about the percentage that Hubert Humphrey got in 1968 when he almost won. Jackson can take no credit for those showings.

Ah, but Jackson has led so many more blacks to register and then led so many black voters to the polls since then that the black vote is much more important than it used to be. Jackson says so all the time. He said so this week in discussing the Sister Souljah flap.

He's right that both black registration and turnout increased from 1980 to 1984, probably because he ran for president, but they declined from 1984 to 1988, when he also ran for president. As for mid-term elections, after a spurt up from 1982 to 1986, black registration and turnout percentages dropped in 1990 to below 1982 figures.

I believe that Clinton is going to get a solid black vote again in 1992 because he has the most attractive civil rights/economics ideas of the three presidential candidates, and because he has the likes of Rep. Mike Espy of Mississippi and Mayor Kurt Schmoke on his side.

They and many other black elected officials know that condemning racial hatred of the Sister Souljah variety is in the black self-interest. It's in the black self-interest because not doing so drives white voters out of the Democratic party, which is the real Rainbow Coalition. (Jackson got almost nothing but black votes in his presidential races.)

Jesse Jackson hints he may now gravitate toward Ross Perot. I wonder if that was Clinton's plan all along. For him that would be the best of all possible worlds: Black elected officials and voters on his side, Jesse Jackson on Perot's.

Poor Ross.

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